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8/23/2017 6:56 am  #1

On Confederate statues and other graven images

On Confederate statues and other graven images
By Aaron Alexander | 12 hours ago

Workers prepare to take down the statue of former confederate general Robert E. Lee, which stands over 100 feet tall, in Lee Circle in New Orleans, on May 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

(RNS) — Judaism has a blessing for pretty much every possible moment. But none as timely, and prescient, as this one, below, discussed in the Babylonian Talmud and codified in medieval Jewish codes of law and practice.

“Blessed are You, God, Master of the world, who has uprooted idolatry from this place. And just as you have uprooted it from this place, so too may you uproot it from all places; and turn the hearts of those who serve them, to serve You.”

The prohibition against idolatry is so fundamental to Judaism that when idols are destroyed, and one stands in that physical space, the only appropriate response is: Praise God. The Jewish animosity toward graven images is so pervasive that almost every Jewish child learns an ancient disquisition which describes why Abraham was worthy of becoming the first Jew: He dismantled his father’s idols.

Idols — images, ideas and physical representations that venerate human diminishment — are ubiquitous these days. They can be found in our hearts, in our customs and even in our laws. And of course, they are littered throughout the Deep South. At least for now. Many of us are hoping to be inundated with more opportunities to recite this benediction, and soon.

These idols — they were created to be more than pedagogical tools. They were designed purposefully; Jim Crow-era carvings to celebrate not only the men they depict, but the ideologies they espoused. They are hardly benign. Symbols represent values, values animate obligations, and obligations influence actions. To galvanize around such symbols, symbols that represent not a moment in history but an ideology still alive — no longer disguised, fully revealed — births those stones to life and further re-traumatizes all those still under the hateful rhetoric and policy they symbolize.

This isn’t only about monuments. Recently a clothing company, KA Design, tried to “recapture the swastika,” the symbol associated with the brutal murder of 6 million Jews in World War II, by dressing it up with some rainbows and messages of peace. Even if the intention of reclaiming the symbol comes from a place of goodwill, it is beyond naive. It is actually obtuse. That symbol, in public, outside of a museum, flattens hearts and opens deep wounds. Except for people who hate us. For them, it is a rowdy call to violence and revisionist history.

But idolatry is counter to any religious idea worth its weight in salt. We Jews have a name for the tearing down of images that amplify and idolize racist hatred, anti-Semitism or bigotry of any kind; the tearing down, literally and figuratively, of the symbols of degradation and oppression, especially when those ideas are still so pervasive. We call it: Judaism.

The thing about monotheism, perhaps our greatest gift to the world, is that it is built upon oneness, unity, each of us emanating from the same divine stuff while fully able to maintain distinctions. To experience and know that potent connectivity is simply elegant. But to know it is to realize that thick walls of hatred must collapse, with its graven images discarded or relegated to the halls where history is taught, not continually perpetrated.

(Rabbi Aaron Alexander gave this sermon on Friday (Aug. 18) at Adas Israel, his synagogue in Washington, D.C. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 

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